How to Recognize High-Functioning Alcoholism

May 19, 2023
Alcoholism image
Recognizing high-functioning alcoholism in oneself or a loved one can be challenging, as individuals often maintain their responsibilities while struggling with addiction.

Recognizing high-functioning alcoholism in oneself or a loved one can be challenging, as individuals often maintain their responsibilities while struggling with addiction. However, high-functioning alcoholism can lead to serious physical and mental health problems, as well as interpersonal difficulties. Co-occurring mental health disorders, such as anxiety or depression, are also common.

At Magnolia Medical Group, we offer outpatient addiction treatment services to help individuals overcome their addiction to alcohol. In this blog, we’ll discuss the signs of high-functioning alcoholism and the evidence-based treatment options available at Magnolia Medical Group to help those in need.

What is a High-Functioning Alcoholic?

The fear of not being able to consume their drug of choice is a hallmark of addiction, and high-functioning alcoholics may continue to drink and maintain control, despite negative consequences. Although they may never experience severe consequences, such as losing their job or getting a DUI, they might drink throughout the day to reduce cravings and avoid withdrawal symptoms. Additionally, they may abstain from drinking during the week but binge drink on the weekends or after work. However, a person’s ability to drink and maintain their responsibilities does not mean they are free of alcoholism.

What Types of Responsibilities can a High-Functioning Alcoholic Maintain?

A high-functioning alcoholic is an individual who is addicted to alcohol but whose drinking habits have not yet resulted in significant negative consequences. While high-functioning alcoholics may face some repercussions related to their drinking, they are not severe enough to impact their ability to fulfill their responsibilities. These individuals may still be able to maintain their jobs, perform well, and avoid legal and social issues that are commonly associated with excessive drinking, at least for a while. However, over time, the harmful effects of alcohol abuse can catch up with individuals, even those who are functioning well on the surface.

Who is Most Likely to be a High-Functioning Alcoholic?

It’s estimated that up to 19% of individuals in the United States who struggle with alcohol use disorder are classified as functional alcoholics. Typically, these individuals begin drinking in their late teenage years but do not develop a dependence on alcohol until their thirties. Despite their addiction, they tend to maintain stable relationships, full-time employment, and high earnings.

Those with high-functioning alcoholism often binge drink, consuming five or more per sitting and typically drinking every other day. They are also more likely to have attended college and even hold an advanced degree.

Why is High-Functioning Alcoholism a Problem?

Although high-functioning alcoholics are able to maintain their jobs and relationships, prolonged alcohol abuse can lead to serious health issues. Heavy drinking over a long period of time can increase the risk of developing liver disease and certain types of cancer. Alcohol abuse can also cause a severe vitamin deficiency known as wet brain, which can lead to permanent brain damage and memory loss. High-functioning alcoholics are still susceptible to experiencing problems with work performance and relationships.

Though denial may be a barrier to seeking help, acknowledging the negative impact of their drinking on their lives can motivate high-functioning alcoholics to seek treatment. By addressing their drinking problem, individuals can improve their health and overall quality of life.

How to Recognize & Identify High-Functioning Alcoholism

Alcoholics frequently conceal their drinking habits and may engage in the following behaviors:

  • Adding alcohol to Gatorade or water bottles
  • Stopping at the liquor store when picking up takeout food
  • Pre-drinking before social events to appear as though they are drinking normally

Additionally, they may:

  • Binge drinking, which is defined as consuming five or more drinks within two hours for men and four or more drinks for women
  • Drinking while on the job
  • Drinking and driving
  • Display physical symptoms such as bloodshot or watery eyes, or shaky hands
  • Downplay the severity of their drinking habits
  • Avoid dining at restaurants that do not serve alcohol
  • Experience unexplained mood swings, anxiety, or irritability

Family members, friends, and colleagues may notice signs of alcohol abuse, such as slurred speech, an unsteady gait, or an unwillingness to participate in evening social activities.

For individuals with mild or moderate alcohol use disorder, the signs may be more subtle. They may include:

  • Joking about alcoholism or their alcohol use
  • Drinking to relax or feel more confident
  • Drinking early in the day or alone
  • Planning to drink moderately but end up getting drunk
  • Denying drinking
  • Be pulled over for driving while intoxicated (DWI)

In some cases, a spouse or partner may use the term “high-functioning” to minimize the seriousness of their significant other’s alcohol addiction. It is important to seek help for alcohol abuse, as long-term alcohol use can lead to severe health problems and significantly impact a person’s quality of life.

How Alcoholism Can be Treated

There are several options for treating alcoholism, including both individual and group therapy, medication to reduce cravings, and intensive outpatient treatment facilities. In order to increase the likelihood of success, people with alcoholism should avoid bars, parties, and other situations where alcohol is served, as these can act as strong triggers for cravings.

Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous can be effective options for those seeking alcoholism treatment. Additionally, family members or loved ones of individuals struggling with alcoholism may benefit from attending Al-Anon support groups. According to Giannotti, community AA meetings are the most successful option for preventing relapse and are available for free worldwide daily.

Get Help with Alcoholism and Substance Abuse

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of high-functioning alcoholism can be challenging. However, it is important to understand that a drinking problem can have serious physical and mental health consequences. Seeking help for alcohol use disorder is crucial to avoid the negative impacts of alcoholism on an individual’s relationships, work, and overall quality of life. With the right treatment and support, recovery is possible. Encouraging loved ones struggling with alcohol addiction to seek help and providing them with resources and support can make a significant difference in their journey toward sobriety.

At Magnolia Medical Group, we provide outpatient and medication-assisted addiction treatment services for high-functioning alcoholics and those struggling with addiction. Remember, alcohol addiction is a chronic disease and requires professional help. If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol addiction, don’t hesitate to reach out to Magnolia Medical Group. Our team of experts can provide the support and treatment needed for a successful recovery.

Contact us today to get started.